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Karl Mannheim

Date of birth : 1893-03-27
Date of death : 1947-01-09
Birthplace : Budapest, Hungary
Nationality : Hungarian
Category : Science and Technology
Last modified : 2011-08-31

The Hungarian-born sociologist and educator Karl Mannheim explored the role of the intellectual in political and social reconstruction. He also wrote on the sociology of knowledge.

Karl Mannheim was born on March 27, 1893, in Budapest to a German mother and a Jewish middle-class Hungarian father. He attended a humanistic school in Budapest and did further study in philosophy (particularly epistemology), languages, and the social sciences at the universities of Budapest, Berlin, Paris, Freiburg, and Heidelberg (1920). His doctoral dissertation in 1922 was The Structural Analysis of Knowledge. In 1921 he married Juliska Lang.

Mannheim was a lecturer in sociology at the University of Heidelberg (1926-1930) and then became professor of sociology and head of the department at the University of Frankfurt. The Nazi government forced his dismissal in 1933. He moved to England, where he became a lecturer in sociology at the London School of Economics (1933-1945). He was also lecturer in the sociology of education (1941-1944) and then professor of education and sociology (1944-1947) at the Institute of Education of the University of London. He died in London on Jan. 9, 1947.

Mannheim's early writings dealt with the leadership role of intellectual elites in maintaining freedom. This concern reflected his study of Max Weber, Max Scheler, and Karl Marx. Mannheim's most important early book, Ideology and Utopia (1929 in German, 1936 in English), introduced the sociology of knowledge as a new field of study in the social sciences. Antipathy to the Nazi movement in Germany deepened his interest in democratic dynamics. His writings increasingly focused on the political, social, and moral problems involved in the survival of democracy and freedom. He saw interdependence as the characteristic feature of the modern era and viewed education and planning as essential for improving society. This concern is expressed in Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction (1940), in which he weighed the political strengths and weaknesses of intellectual elites. His Diagnosis of Our Time (1943) explored ways to reestablish rational means of social organization. In Freedom, Power, and Democratic Planning (1950), published after his death, he continued his concern about the intellectual as leader in a planned society.

In his last years Mannheim made the problem of planning and education his principal concern. As editor of the International Library of Sociology and Social Reconstruction, he stimulated thought and publications in sociology, education, and planning. He sought democratic ways to achieve consensus in a mass society, believing that studies in the sociology of education could help achieve this consensus.

Mannheim was a successful and inspiring teacher with a contagious passion for his subject. He was articulate and provocative, had a Socratic tolerance for opposition and a lively sense of humor, and was nonpartisan in sociological controversies. Although he did not create a sector school, he influenced many students and colleagues.

Jacques J. Maquet, The Sociology of Knowledge (1949; trans. 1951), is a critical analysis of the systems of Mannheim and Pitirim A. Sorokin. Margaret B. Fisher, Leadership and Intelligence (1954), discusses Mannheim's writings in this field.

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